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A lasting legacy

New psychology lecture series in memory of Dr. Patricia Canning

Campus and Community

By Kelly Foss

The Department of Psychology will remember a late faculty member with a new annual lecture series in her name.

Dr. Patricia Canning passed away in November 2015.

The Dr. Patricia Canning Memorial Lecture in Child Health and Development was established through generous gifts and pledges from her family and friends. The first lecture in the series will take place in March 2017.

The purpose of the lecture series is to attract a leader in the broadly defined area of child health and development research or discovery, with a goal of providing wide-reaching benefit to both the general public and the Memorial University community. The speaker will have an international reputation and have produced extensive research on issues relevant to researchers, policy-makers and practitioners.

Generous spirit

As a child psychologist, educator and researcher who began her career at Mount St. Vincent University in Bedford, N.S., the aim of Dr. Canning’s work was to understand what maximizes children’s health, well-being, learning and family functioning and to turn that understanding into concrete practices and policies to support children’s development.

“Dr. Canning was a strong and caring woman with a generous spirit,” said Dr. Mary Courage, University Research Professor in the Department of Psychology and a colleague of Dr. Canning’s.

“She grew up in a supportive family environment that provided her with security and the opportunity for a good education. In spite of those advantages, she never forgot that there were many children out there who were not as fortunate as she was. She was determined to work with educators, program providers and policy-makers to ensure all children had the same opportunities.”

Children’s champion

Dr. Canning was a pioneer in that she was one of the first people to realize the importance of doing research in the real world, to ask and answer questions critical for improving the quality of and access to services for children and families.

She did not bring children and families to the university to study them; she went out to communities in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, to First Nations communities in Ontario and to communities in the Caribbean, working with families, service providers and policy-makers everywhere she went.

A champion for children, especially the most vulnerable, she left her mark on improved education and community programs and services, including early promotion services for families, prevention programs for children with special needs and their families, and early childhood education and childcare.

“Patricia Canning will live on in the success of countless numbers of Aboriginal students.” — Former prime minister Paul Martin

She had many “firsts” in these areas. Some of these include her review of special education for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the first study of the prevalence of pre-school age Canadian children who were overweight and obese. She introduced the first university accredited program in early childhood education at the University of West Indies (Antigua) and participated in similar and related programs in the Dominican Republic.

“Her work was an important part of her legacy and will hopefully serve to motivate and energize all of us who are concerned about the welfare of children in this country and abroad,” said Lynn Frizzell, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology, who also worked with Dr. Canning.

Groundbreaking project

As former prime minister Paul Martin commented regarding a project she undertook with Aboriginal students, “Patricia’s ability to reach out to the teachers and her understanding, especially of the very youngest children, were part of the reason this groundbreaking project worked out so well. As a result, Patricia Canning will live on in the success of countless numbers of Aboriginal students.”

In addition to her academic accomplishments, Dr. Canning played a pivotal and very personal role in the discovery of a rare gene that was the cause of so many deaths in her family.

“I look forward to the new discoveries that will be the result.” — Dr. Mark Abrahams

Ever the scientist and humanitarian, she worked with geneticists at Memorial University and the University of British Columbia so that carriers of this gene could be identified and offered the option of a life-saving surgery. Since then, many individuals in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere have benefitted from this medical advance.

“I would like to thank the family and friends of Dr. Patricia Canning for choosing to remember her contributions in this way,” said Dr. Mark Abrahams, dean, Faculty of Science.

“Bringing trailblazers in child health and development to Memorial University will have a long-lasting impact on the new and ongoing research we are conducting in the Department of Psychology. I look forward to the new discoveries that will be the result.”


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